Beyond bias, within expectations: Brighton Photo Biennial 2016

Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Beyond bias, within expectations: Brighton Photo Biennial 2016

Like most festivals of visual art, Brighton Photo Biennial likes to tell stories about the host city. But the Brighton-inspired work this year feels a bit familiar. It is one or two surprise stories from around the world which provide the highlight of BPB16.

Beyond bias, within expectations: Brighton Photo Biennial 2016

Like most festivals of visual art, Brighton Photo Biennial likes to tell stories about the host city. But the Brighton-inspired work this year feels a bit familiar. It is one or two surprise stories from around the world which provide the highlight of BPB16.

The first of these is the Dandy Lion Project, an ever-expanding exhibit of black men who like formal attire. It shouldn’t be a surprise that men of all colours can rock a sharp suit, but the power of these images and extent of this subculture will change your view of masculinity and race.

Some 30 photographers are included in this acclaimed show’s UK premiere. Another surprise is that suited gentlemen, which sounds like a narrow brief, can evoke so many different qualities, from nostalgia to fashion, and so many emotions, from the comic to the moody. 

At times this power-dressing appears gets close to the knuckle. Allison Janae Hamilton has shot her subject in a leopard skin suit in a jungle clearing. It is many miles away from the boardroom, but that is the most potent aspect the Project. It appropriates the attire of the corporate world.

The second global project is a sensitive exploration of sexuality in Mumbai. By contrast to out-and-proud Brighton, many Indians are conservative in their attitude towards the body. But Olivia Arthur, who is a Magnum photographer, has given us a series which combines intimacy with gravitas.

Installation view, Our City, How Do We Look? Jubilee Square, Brighton. A Photoworks and Together the People co-commission. Brighton Photo Biennial 2016. Photo Credit: Nigel Green

Installation view, Fashion shows, University of Brighton Galleries, Edward Street, Brighton. A Photoworks commission. Brighton Photo Biennial 2016. Photo Credit: Nigel Green

In a culture where public displays of affection are rare and pre-marital sex is frowned upon, Arthur has found couples embracing by the side of the Western Freeway and, more romantically, by the surf in Juhu Beach. There is also a suite of nudes which convey both bravery and shame.

But when Arthur tackles life in Brighton, the images become a bit more predictable. We see a hen night and a drag queen, two apt metonyms for the night life of Brighton. They are both gripping executions but one would like to see new narratives around life here on the South Coast.

This work is presented in dialogue with Indian photographer Bharat Sikka, who shoots in colour and gives his subjects anonymous titles from myth. ‘Loki’ is a six foot skinhead in a tutu. And indeed the LGTBQ community in Brighton must live in a Valhalla, compared with Mumbai.

A female nude reclines on a fire escape; a male appears naked apart form his spectacles and running shoes. These are stark images that still shock. Sikka has worked as hard to win these subjects over as Arthur must have done. But his results might work better as portraits, rather than a study of an already visible community.

Installation view, Reimagine, University of Brighton Galleries, Grand Parade. Brighton. A Photoworks / FOCUS Festival Mumbai co-commission in partnership with the University of Brighton. Brighton Photo Biennial 2016. Photo Credit: Nigel Green

Installation view, Into The Outside: The Story So Far, University of Brighton Galleries, Grand Parade. A Photoworks collaboration with the Mass Observation Archive, Brighton & Hove Library Services, the East Sussex Record Office and Queer in Brighton. Brighton Photo Biennial 2016. Photo Credit: Nigel Green

The third pillar of BPB16 is a major installation by youth culture fan, Ewen Spencer. One imagines his portraits required even more people-wrangling since, while no one appears undressed, his well staged compositions include groups of young people he has met while at the Notting Hill Carnival.

In fact, clothes and how to wear clothes are pretty much the point of Spencer’s body of work. Being  teens and twenty-somethings, his revellers are a stylish bunch. But what elevates this exhibition beyond an exercise in street photography are the drama and scale of his well constructed scenes.

For another layer of meaning, Spencer has referenced his work as a commercial photographer. His photos are pasted onto billboard hoardings with readily attached spotlights. In the darkened space of former-chapel Fabrica the effect is immersive and as exciting as a passing sound system.

Once again, none of these partygoers would look out of place at a nightclub on Brighton seafront. Youth culture and LGTBQ culture are staples of the city’s self image. Whether the locally-inspired shows go ‘beyond the bias’ as BPB16 promises to, I am not so sure.

Installation view, Kick over the statues (Ewen Spencer), Fabrica, 40 Duke Street, Brighton. A Photoworks / Fabrica co-commission. Brighton Photo Biennial 2016. Photo Credit: Nigel Green.

Installation view, The Dandy Lion Project, University of Brighton Galleries, Edward Street, Brighton. Brighton Photo Biennial 2016. Photo Credit: Nigel Green

But having said that, the core of this year’s presentation is comprised of three strong shows. If you are visiting the city they will all compel your interest. But for locals wanting fresh perspectives there is less for you this year.

Brighton Photo Biennial 2016: Beyond the Bias - Reshaping Image can be seen at selected venues across the city until October 30. See 2016.bpb.org.uk for more details.

Telegram Channel

ArtDependence is now also available on the messaging platform Telegram. Telegram is a cloud-based mobile and desktop messaging app with a focus on security and speed.

Subscribing to the ArtDependence Channel allows you to easily stay up to date with the latest ArtDependence news.

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Image of the Day

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Femme au béret orange et au col de fourrure (Marie‐Thérèse), executed 4 December 1937. Oil on canvas. 24⅛ x 18⅛ in (61.2 x 46.1 cm)

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Femme au béret orange et au col de fourrure (Marie‐Thérèse), executed 4 December 1937. Oil on canvas. 24⅛ x 18⅛ in (61.2 x 46.1 cm)

Search

About ArtDependence

ArtDependence Magazine is an international magazine covering all spheres of contemporary art, as well as modern and classical art.

ArtDependence features the latest art news, highlighting interviews with today’s most influential artists, galleries, curators, collectors, fair directors and individuals at the axis of the arts.

The magazine also covers series of articles and reviews on critical art events, new publications and other foremost happenings in the art world.

If you would like to submit events or editorial content to ArtDependence Magazine, please feel free to reach the magazine via the contact page.